The Atom Station

Translator: 
Year: 
2003
Publisher: 
Place: 
London
Author of Review: 

The Atom Station

(Atómstöðin, 1961)

The Atom Station is sometimes referred to as the first Reykjavík novel, as upon its initial publication in 1948 Icelandic fiction mostly took place in the ideal surroundings of the Icelandic countryside. However, despite the setting, this reverence for the simple honesty of rural life still looms large in the book’s background.

Through the eyes of Ugla, a country girl recently arrived in the city, we are given a distinctly pessimistic view of the city’s recently urbanized inhabitants. Packed with characters that readers of the time easily recognised as local politicians, artists and entrepreneurs, The Atom Station landed Laxness in hot water for its blatant socialist message and unfavourable depictions of Reykjavík bigwigs. The book is slightly marred by a heavy-handed cynicism emblematic of the time; a period in Icelandic history that was rich with Cold War fearmongering, which drove many to embrace American imports and idealism with an enthusiasm that is still evident in Icelandic society of today.

Though seen by some as one of Laxness’s lesser works, The Atom Station has found renewed popularity in recent generations through its proto-feminist protagonist Ugla, whose sharp tongue and no-nonsense outlook provides merriment as well as social criticism. Much of this criticism stands the test of time as modern readers will find themselves both enraged and amused when confronted with eerily familiar depictions of Reykjavík’s upper echelon.